Thursday, August 25, 2005


THROWING UP THE HANDS

By Fred Onions

--First a message to Jack Person: Thanks for the check, but I can’t find your email address on my list. Please contact me so I can credit your account.

-- We are now entering the Era of Old Men Falling off Motorcycles. It may not happen this year, but you can see it coming, fellas – the last ride.

-- Napa del Norte is the new name for the Skagit Valley. It’s catching on. LaConner will be re-named Carmel de Fuca.

-- Baseball update. The White Sox have 60 wins, great pitching, great base-running and lousy hitting. This is a classic Chicago team. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals also a have a classic team with big hitters and a big lead in the National League. But the great baseball guru, Kwami Taha, says it doesn’t get serious until August 15. Taha also suggests a long shot to watch -- the Florida Marlins, but he would not confirm the rumor that the Marlins keep a secret, voodoo shrine to Orlando Cepeda in the back of their dugout.

-- Karl Rove doesn’t matter. He’s over-rated, he’s not an evil genius, he’s just another scalawag from Texas. I address these remarks to the Democrats, “You drove Trent Lott out of his position as Majority Leader, and he was replaced with Bill Frist. Did that make you happy?”

-- Now the essay begins.

Throwing up the Hands

Throwing up the hands – it’s a gesture. It does not indicate surrender or despair. It does not mean bewilderment. It just means – well, it’s a gesture, so if you could just visualize this writer throwing up his hands. The topic is Africa.

It’s too easy to find bad news about Africa on the Internet – mainly from the BBC and from the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian. In just two days I picked out these items.

Female Circumcision. Ninety-eight percent of the women in the African country of Djibouti are circumcised – the highest rate in the world. It is a practice that involves cutting away a girl’s inner labia and clitoris, and sewing the wound together, leaving a tiny hole for passing urine and menstrual blood. Despite medical evidence that genital mutilation puts women at risk of infection, pain and complications during childbirth, social pressure is such that most mothers opt to circumcise their daughters.

Quaint. What am I supposed to say? “Whatever floats your boat?” or “Who am I to judge the customs of another people?” Am I supposed to be non-judgmental?

56 killed in tribal raid -- 22 of them were children who died in their school uniforms. It was an old-fashioned cattle raid. The Boranas invaded and attacked a Gabra village. This was in northern Kenya, some hundreds of miles from Nairobi. The attack was in reprisal for Gabra raids on Borana villages. This has been going on for centuries.

Another quaint custom, only now they have semi-automatic weapons.

Also 56 killed – it’s the same number, only a coincidence – but 56 killed and 30 seriously injured when a bus plunged over an embankment in the Asmara district of Eritrea. The bus, “which police believe may have been overloaded,” slipped off the road and down a ravine.

I’m shocked – an overloaded bus in Africa? How unusual. And was the driver dead drunk or merely semi-drunk? If I was driving an overloaded bus with bald tires and poor brakes down a twisting mountain road, I would drive that bus very, very carefully, because I know how to drive. Africans don’t know how to drive. South Africa, which is advanced enough to keep credible statistics, has a traffic fatality rate more than five times greater than in the U.S. One only has to observe truck drivers quaffing beer at a roadside rest area to confirm this.

In Zimbabwe, Basic Goods Vanish as Crisis Deepens. Add to what has been in short supply – gasoline, bread, cooking oil, milk – but add to that soap. Although sometime bread is in short supply even though they have the flour. The reason? There is no fuel for the gas-powered baking ovens. Do not underestimate the informal resourcefulness of African people – their ability to make do, but even so they are living on fumes, while the government continues to tear down houses, stores, and factories, while children are kept from school, while people go hungry and begging.

And to that list of shortages add chlorine to purify the municipal water supply – the water is becoming dangerous to drink in the cities that once had plentiful, cheap potable water for everybody. And now, no soap, and this among the cleanest people I have ever known. Africans are cleaner than Europeans. They smell better, they dress better and they look better. It is pitiful to think they are scarce of bathing supplies.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is going begging to China. Mugabe has an insane hatred of white people that will last until his dying day and may that be soon. Currently presiding over the world’s fastest shrinking economy, Mugabe is leading a delegation to China on July 29 basically to beg for money from his masters. Mugabe has also made deals with the government of Iran, exchanging Iranian oil for mining concessions in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe goes hat in hand to Iran and China. This is nuts. If colonialism was the problem, then independence is clearly not the solution. It would be better to bring back the British – they have mastered the worst of their racism and they are actually good at doing things. The saddest thing about Robert Mugabe is that he hates something that no longer exists – the virulent racism of the 19th century European.

Bono Moves the World with LiveAid concerts for Africa and High-powered Meetings with Bush and Blair. Bono cries, “Double the Aid.” But the African leaders are proud. One Nigerian leader said, “Africa’s image is that of a child. We are infantilized by this campaign. It echoes the condescension of 19th century missionaries who came to Africa to save us from ourselves. All Africans share a bitter memory of discrimination and oppression by colonial powers. What is most hurtful is the arrogance of the Europeans who automatically assume their superiority. We in Africa are considered to be no more than another species of animal in a vast game reserve.”

But it is not condescension, it’s the truth. Africans are not good at government or economy. Wishing they had this competence will not make it so. What are Africans good at – music, athletics, sculpture, and adornment. By adornment I mean what Europeans and Americans call fashion, except that fashion is not a minor art in Africa, it is the equal to any important European art form, and so I call it adornment – meaning clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, and hair style, including that for both women and men, including the past and the present day. Africans are better at this.

Or athletics. It is not condescending for an African to say, “White Men Can’t Jump,” because it’s the truth. That was in the movie of that name, but Woody Harrelson who played the white character opposite Wellesley Snipes in that movie quickly shot back, “You’d rather look good than win.”

“Looking good” is African mastery. “Winning” is European competence. Everybody is good at something. Sexuality, for instance. The lurid fascination that Europeans have for African sexuality indicates European inferiority. Africans do it better, do it more often, and do it more kinds of ways. Africans know what they are doing, and it is natural to take pride in what they are good at. That is not condescension.

It is a cruel twist of fate that Africa is suffering from a massive epidemic of sexual disease, namely AIDS. It cannot be that they will accept teaching on sexual hygiene and technique from their inferiors – the Europeans. Again, this is not condescension, it is the truth. Only Africans can know how to change this. Besides that, it is much too personal – Africans are embarrassed by all this scrutiny.

But it’s different with the economy and the government. Bring back the British, please. They can’t cook and they sure can’t dance, but they’re good at lawmaking and administration, diesel mechanics, and computer software. I would not double aid to Africa as Bono urges, I would bring in people from Europe and Asia, and in several millions, middle class people with modest amounts of capital, with skills and education. I would only require that these new immigrants must learn to speak the local language – this would screen out those few looking for cheap household servants.

But it will never happen. These were the very people, the 4,000 white farmers in Zimbabwe, who were evicted from a country they were born in. I have seen those farms, back in 1997 – they were so beautiful and productive. There was good food. There was good water for everybody. The children went to school. Everybody could read and write. The forest – outside the plowed farmland – was verdant and abundant with wild game. There was one rich white bastard and 300 to 500 farmhands per farm. The rich white bastard was the one who knew how to farm, and the farm fed its own people, and the farm fed millions in the capitol city of Harare, and the southern capitol of Bulawayo, and the farm exported food to neighboring countries. And it could have been better. It was easy, back in 1997, sitting by the swimming pool of the rich white bastard who owned the farm, to devise a critical appraisal of his operation. Since he had a swimming pool for his own family, how come the farm hands had to walk one-fourth a mile to the only tap for their household use? Why didn’t he run a pipeline over to the village, instead of making the women carry water every day?

But it was good water, and it flowed 365 days of year, because the rich, white bastard knew how to maintain the pump.

Now the squatters have invaded the farm. They ran off the rich, white bastard. Someone stole the pump. Instead of walking one-fourth a mile to get clean water, the village women walk a half-mile to a sometimes muddy stream.

Throwing up the Hands

The hardest thing to read was this report by Cathy Buckle about the environmental destruction across these farms. The fences torn down, the forest burned, and the game slaughtered by poachers – all gone. Read her account at

African Tears or http://africantears.netfirms.com/index.shtml

You would think I have no hope, that I am become hard-hearted and bitter, immune to suffering. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do fear that most of Bono’s LiveAid will go to the kleptocrats in African government – the descendants of the chiefs who sold their own people into slavery. In a subsequent essay I will describe some small-scale, low overhead operations in southern Africa that I find worthy of support – conservation projects and community groups.

I close with a note from a friend, a man with a lifetime of experience in southern Africa - - I call him the Great White Hunter behind his back. He said, “Botswana works because it is the size of Zimbabwe with only 1.2 million people and has diamonds – with foreigners managing the mining operations (ex-white South Africans) and mainly white people managing the Safari operations and the flights, etc…almost all on contract so the locals do not feel that the white man is part of their country…..Actually I do not support humanitarian causes. Humanitarian causes just aid the plague of people sweeping across the globe which is slowly, but surely destroying everything in the natural world. I only give money to causes that aid the opposite side of the equation – the Nature Conservancy, Peregrine Fund, Audubon Society, etc.”

I don’t agree, but just like I started this essay “somewhere between blue, gay Canada and the United States of Jesus.” I finish by saying that I have moved away from Bono and closer to the old African hand because his sympathy is less dramatic but far more genuine.

God Bless Africa.

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